Doc’s note: We’re featuring another essay from my researcher, Amanda Cuocci. This month, she’s sharing insight into all the work it takes to handle someone’s affairs after their death.
Last month, temperatures here in Baltimore soared to the high 90s.
My grandmother, at 91, can’t stand the heat. Air conditioning is precious to her. So when it broke during the recent heatwave, she was “hopping mad.”
And her anger only increased when she called the service company to schedule a repair. The company insisted on only speaking to the account holder… my grandfather.
Imagine her frustration when she had to tell them he’s been dead for a dozen years and had to relive that difficult conversation again.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence… When a loved one dies, there’s an enormous amount of work required. You need to plan a funeral, take care of the estate, and call numerous businesses.
Most of us know the basics: find the will, cancel utilities, notify the bank. But there are many other considerations… including things like service contracts, as my grandmother had the bad fortune to have to handle.
We put together a basic list to help you get started should you ever be in this situation. Also, I recommend making your own list to make things easier on your heirs after your own death as well. It’s not pleasant to think about, but know that you’ll help relieve their stress in a difficult time.
Here’s what you need to get started…
Gather legal documents. Locate all the necessary paperwork, including a will and/or trust, deeds and titles for houses, cars, boats, etc., and insurance policies.
You’ll also need copies of the death certificate. Typically, the funeral director will help you order these (make sure to get multiple copies). You can also order more from your state. VitalRecords has a handy online directory of who you need to contact depending on where the deceased died. You can find that right here.
Contact government offices. These are the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, and the state tax office. You’ll need information such as the Social Security number of the deceased. Start with Social Security to begin the process of listing your relative on the “death file.”
Contact all financial institutions. These include the mortgage company, bank, investment firms, and accounts for 401(k)s, IRAs, etc. Don’t forget to cancel and cut up all credit cards as well.
If the deceased was still working, you’ll need to contact the employer and cancel any medical or dental plans. You should also ask about any group insurance policies.
If you don’t have a list of financial institutions, you can get a free credit report for your loved one at AnnualCreditReport.com. It should list out all associated institutions.
Contact utilities and service plans. Everything that keeps the house running… heat (gas, oil, etc.), electric, cable, phone, water/sewage, cellphones, exterminator, cleaning services, service contracts for major appliances, and any other plans the deceased had.
Cancel communications. Some folks contact the post office and ask the mail to be stopped. You may elect to do this at any point. In fact, it may help to wait a few weeks and cancel every subscription as it comes in if you can’t find a list.
Similarly, cancel e-mail and other online accounts.
There’s one more thing you must do when a loved one dies… something I didn’t know about until recently. You must ward against identity theft.
Contact all three of the major credit bureaus and report the death. They’ll need to add a “deceased alert” on your loved one’s credit report. Believe it or not, there are folks out there who steal the identities of the deceased to try and open credit cards, steal Social Security checks, or file for an IRS tax return. Wait about two months and check the credit report of the deceased again… Make sure no activity has happened.
Here’s the contact info for the three major credit bureaus:
One final note about handling a loved one’s final affairs: get someone to help you. Ask friends or other family members to help you manage all the phone calls. I lost track of all the calls we had to make after my grandfather died. It’s exhausting and takes a toll on you emotionally. Take care of yourself and get the support you need. (You can read more on this in my essay about caregiver stress right here.)
What We’re Reading…
- Check out AARP’s full checklist right here.
- The National Institute on Aging has a great list of resources for those grieving the loss of a spouse.
- Something different: Spoiler – it’s not Amelia Earhart in that photo.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Amanda Cuocci and Dr. David Eifrig
July 13, 2017